Thursday, December 29, 2016

When Cultural Icons Leave Us Behind

It's been a tough year for those folks who crisscrossed our childhood and teen years. Those who inspired us, made us laugh and cry, set us singing or dancing, Those whose posters plastered our bedroom walls. Those whose album covers (yes, LP record album covers) were strewn around our dorm rooms. Those whose movies and TV shows we've watched a million times. Those whose books we've read. Those no-longer-earth-bound spirits we've loved and admired from a safe distance for a myriad of personal reasons.

Certainly, any given year robs us of a few culturally important people due to old age, illness, suicide, or just plain crazy living, but this year has been particularly hard on Boomer and GenX touchstones.

Now, lots of folks like to be old poo-heads and throw out that we shouldn't mourn and carry on for people we don't really know. Except we do know these people - at least, we know their individual impact on our lives. Depending on when and how they crossed our paths, we often feel a closer connection to them than we do with colleagues, acquaintances, or even family. (I'm not talking stalkers, here, just regular fan-type stuff.)

When we lose John Glenn, we lose the physical representation of the excitement and nervousness and fear we felt as we sat in our classrooms watching Friendship 7 orbit the earth in 1962. When we lose Leonard Cohen, we lose the person who gave us Hallelujah and Suzanne at the very times in our lives when we needed Hallelujah and Suzanne. When we lose Harper Lee, we lose the actual person who dreamed up Scout and Atticus and Boo and changed our minds about a lot of things at the very point in time we needed our minds changed. So it doesn't matter that we didn't know them personally. It's what they brought to our lives over the arc of years.

David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Patty Duke, Gene Wilder, Prince, Ali, Merle Haggard, Arnold Palmer, the Garrys Shandling and Marshall, Pat Summitt, Elie Weisel, Pete Fountain, Gwen Ifill, Florence Henderson. And now Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds. And so many more. In one year. We must be content with whatever words of wisdom, acts of courage, and fabulous performances they've already given us.

Cherish your cultural touchstones while ye may. It'll probably get tougher for the next few years since many of the fabulous people who taught us to laugh and sing and dance and appreciate art, literature, and sports are aging out of our world. And as they go we're reminded of our own position in the line-up. Indeed, we all are shuffling our way toward the end of our mortal coils.

Go ahead and feel sad and nostalgic. Watch the old movies. Play the old songs. Re-read the books. Replay the news and sporting events. We've lost people who made us feel, who brought us joy. Thank you, brave talented souls, for adding to the brilliant colors of our lives. We salute you.